Those who say Louisiana is “too flat” or has “no hiking trails” obviously haven’t been to Kisatchie National Forest.
This Louisiana gem contains more than 600,000 acres filled with rolling hills, scenic overlooks, waterfalls and hiking trails snaking through towering pines. The area offers the public a wide array of recreational opportunities to satisfy nearly all outdoor-adventure seekers. A stroll through Kisatchie’s unique geological formations, whether bird watching, hiking or mountain biking, makes the perfect weekend getaway in close proximity to Baton Rouge.
A must-see in Kisatchie’s Calcasieu Ranger District, located southeast of Leesville, is Wolf Rock Cave. A battered, dirt road leads to a small parking lot at GPS coordinates 30.97196, -93.19324, where yellow poles mark the entry to several short trails that all lead to the bluffs.
Limestone rocks protruding from the hillside house the small cave, which carves through around 70 feet in the brittle rock face.
The cave’s entry is small and after only a few feet requires travel on all fours. The damp cavern floor is often muddy as a result of rainwater runoff, but dries up occasionally when there is a lack of precipitation in the area.
Be sure to carry a flashlight or headlamp, as the pitch-black cave can be quite eerie and often holds a few surprises.
“There’s the occasional snake and other critters that call the cave home,” said Lisa Lewis, Kisatchie district ranger.
Folklore suggests the area was once home to outlaws and Wolf Rock Cave served as the perfect hideout for those looking to escape the law. But Lewis points to historical and archeological findings that provide evidence the area is quite unique.
“The cave is significant archeologically,” she said. “Nomadic people used the area and the rock there as a quarry to shape into tools. It is the only known rock-overhang shelter in the state.”
Just north of Wolf Rock Cave, in the Kisatchie Ranger District, lie arguably some of the best hiking trails and primitive camping spots in the state.
Spend the night at the Kisatchie Bayou Recreation Complex along the sandy beaches of the rock-strewn Kisatchie Bayou.
The primitive campground has 18 established spots for tents, along with barbeque pits as well as restrooms. Note, however, that there is no drinking water available and all water should be packed in.
Here, nab a view of a small waterfall while listening to the rushing of the rocky rapids. The beach offers the perfect starting point for kayakers interested in navigating a leisurely paddle with the occasional set of whitewater along the way, which are best after a period of rain.
If void of a kayak, spend the day traversing one of the many hiking trails in the area like the 10.5-mile Caroline Dorman Trail. The trail can be completed in a day and among the highlights are scenic views of the Kisatchie Bayou as it parallels the path. It is popular among horseback riders and mountain bikers looking for some elevation change.
A crowd favorite among hikers is the Backbone Trail, a 7-mile path through the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness Area, the only such designated area in the state.
The one-way trail can be completed as a loop if starting at the southern trailhead and hiking the remaining few miles along the roadway leading back to the starting trailhead, offering an easy distance for an overnight backpacking trip or day hike.
Hills and rocky bluffs characterize the trail, and limestone rocks scatter along the path to uncover scenes unlike any in Louisiana. Several creek crossings give way to bottomland hardwoods habitat, then turn to Longleaf pine, which persists for a majority of the hike.
Four miles down the trail is a picturesque bluff overlooking the Kisatchie hills and valleys, making for the ideal spot to pitch a tent or stop off for a break. The view appears like a scene of the rolling Ozark Mountains of Arkansas rather than terrain of Louisiana.
Round out the weekend with a visit to the Longleaf Vista Recreation Area, where hikers can rest their legs at the provided picnic tables. Restrooms, barbeque pits and drinking water serve as welcomed amenities after a long weekend on the trail.
Soak in one more panoramic view of the Kisatchie hills before trekking back to the hustle and bustle of city life.
For a weekend trip all in one place, the Wild Azalea National Recreation Trail offers 26 miles of backcountry adventure through pine-covered hills.
The trail has become a favorite of backpackers and mountain bikers for its easily accessible trailheads and well-maintained path. Visiting in spring offers the chance to grab a view of the trail’s namesake flowers blooming.
The path is one-way and there is no shuttle service available, so be sure to arrange transportation.
Kisatchie National Forest is truly the destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Opportunities to get up close and personal with Louisiana’s wild places abound, and fortunately, are just a short drive from the capital city.
For more information on Kisatchie National Forest and directions, visit fs.usda.gov/main/kisatchie/home.